Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 26
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

Prudential Fox and Roach, Realtors

Gloria Nilson GMAC Real Estate

Henderson Sotheby's International Realty

N.T. Callaway Princeton Office

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Princeton Photo Lab Closing Its Doors After 16-Plus Years on Nassau Street

Anne Levin

After almost 17 years on Nassau Street, Princeton Photo Lab will serve customers tomorrow, Thursday, June 30, for the last time. The shop is closing to make room for a “nationwide retailer,” according to a spokesman for the Chatham-based David Cronheim Company, which owns the building. The new, as-yet unidentified business (the product may be shoes, according to area storeowners) will occupy the combined space of Princeton Photo and the adjacent Princeton Barber Shop, which is moving around the corner to Tulane Street.

“It’s very sad,” said Charlie Lee, who opened Princeton Photo first at 195 Nassau Street in 1994, moving to 126 Nassau in 2001. “But the business is not the same. When I started, it was only film. Now you don’t even see a negative print.”

Mr. Lee will continue to offer his services through a website (www.princetonphotogallery.com), focused primarily on his own popular photographs of the Princeton University campus and its environs. He is selling his matted prints at reduced prices in these last days of the store, and business has been brisk as the word has spread among his customers.

“Yesterday I sold almost ten,” he said last Thursday. “If I could continue like this, I wouldn’t have to leave.”

But a revolution in technology has reduced demand for the photo-finishing services Mr. Lee provided. A sign propped up in the store summarizes the situation for customers: “Due to the changes in the market place and in technology, the trend of photography is just not what it used to be,” it reads. “Even I myself have hundreds of family pictures at my fingertips, sliding one to another on my smart phone. I am able to enjoy these images without printing out a single photo. This is why photo shops are on the endangered list of businesses that could soon become extinct.”

Mr. Lee’s 10-year lease had come to an end, and his landlord did not offer renewal. “My business had been suffering for many years, but I didn’t plan to terminate it yet,” he said.

According to Frank Sullivan, Property Manager and Sales Associate for the Cronheim Company, Mr. Lee had an option for an additional five years when he first signed the lease, but he chose not to exercise it. The lease actually finishes at the end of July, but Mr. Lee has chosen to leave at the end of the current month. “We normally give 30 days notice, but we gave him 90 days,” Mr. Sullivan said. “Believe me, I was the one who had to tell him, and I sure wasn’t happy doing it. He was a good tenant and he’s a good man. But we had concerns about the sustainability of that business model.”

The Cronheim Company owns three stores on Nassau Street and three on Tulane. Storefronts on Nassau Street are in constant demand. “The market there is very good,” Mr. Sullivan said. “I don’t know of a better one in New Jersey. The rents are such that a lot of the local service-type businesses can’t afford what is commanded on Nassau Street.”

Several retailers have approached the company about locating on Nassau Street, Mr. Sullivan said. “We have had a number of inquiries. With this new retailer, we are going to make some improvements to the property. We’ll take the frontage of Mr. Lee’s shop and the barber shop, and make it into one store. We’ll redo the whole property with a new storefront and new glass. It’s been a while since we’ve done major improvements.”

For Mr. Lee who lives in Hopewell and was an environmental chemist before changing careers, closing Princeton Photo Lab is bittersweet. “It’s a mixed feeling,” he said. “I’m happy I won’t have to pay rent and expenses. But after 16 years, I feel bad for my customers, who have become my friends. But I hope the community will come in during these last few days to say goodbye and take a look at what I’m selling, at low prices.”

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